Papar, Malaysia

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District and Town
Colonial-era shoplots in Papar town.
Colonial-era shoplots in Papar town.
Official seal of Papar
Location of Papar
Papar is located in Borneo Topography
Coordinates: 5°44′0″N 115°56′0″E / 5.73333°N 115.93333°E / 5.73333; 115.93333
Country  Malaysia
State  Sabah
Division West Coast
 • Total 1,243.2 km2 (480.0 sq mi)
Elevation 9 m (30 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Total 124,420
 • Density 100/km2 (260/sq mi)

Papar is a town and a district located in the West Coast Division of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. It is 38 kilometres south of the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. It is located along the main federal highway linking the south of Sabah to Kota Kinabalu, and is one of the main stops on the North Borneo Railway.

The Papar area is characterised by low-lying coastal areas which extend inland towards the Crocker Range.[1] Such land was traditionally used for growing rice, and the flat paddy fields once common in the district may have given it its name. Despite the rapid expansion of Kota Kinabalu, the district is still dominated by paddy fields, which are largely worked by natives, and fruit orchards, most of which belong to the ethnic Chinese minority.

Etymology and History[edit]

The name 'Papar' comes from a Bruneian word meaning 'flat or open land'.[2] As with most of the west coast of Sabah, it was originally ruled by the Bruneian sultanate.[2] Its first local leader was Datu Amir Bahar, of Bajau descent.[2] It was then handed to the Overbeck and Dent brothers in 1877.[2]

The first British officer to serve in Papar was H.L. Leicester,[2] who took office in February 1878 aiming to increase Papar's revenues.[2] He was replaced by Alfred Hart Everett after failing to improve Papar's economic outlook.


Chinese-owned sundry shop in Papar town.

In a 2010 census, the population of the district was estimated at 124,420,[3] and is almost evenly divided between Bruneian Malays[4] ( particularly in the villages of Benoni, Buang Sayang, Bongawan, Kampung Laut, Kelanahan, Kimanis and Kinarut), Kadazandusun[4] ( concentrated in the villages of Rampazan, Limbahau, Kinarut, Kopimpinan, Lakut, Mondolipau, Koiduan, Ulu Kimanis, Sumbiling and Limputung), and Bajau[4] (mostly in the villages of Pengalat Besar, Pengalat Kecil, Kawang and Beringgis). There is also a sizeable Chinese minority,[4] predominantly of the Hakka subgroup, as well as smaller numbers of other races.


Papar District Mosque.

Papar is a major hub for the proselytisation of Islam on the west coast of Sabah, owing to its large Muslim community.[2] The district's first mosque was built at Kampung Laut around 1890.[2] It is now known as the Masjid Daerah Papar (Papar District Mosque). Other mosques in the district include the Masjid Pekan Bongawan (Bongawan Town Mosque) and Masjid Haji Mohammad Yaakob (Haji Mohammad Yaakob Mosque), located in Bongawan and Beringgis respectively.


One of the old shops of Papar.

The town itself occupies the southern banks of the Papar River not far from the sea. There are also areas of tidal wetland that are home to mangrove trees and saltwater palm or nipah. Both banks are connected by two steel-concrete bridges, one (with a railway bridge) connecting directly into the town itself, and another much farther upriver (on the old Kota Kinabalu-Papar road) leading into the paddy plantation hamlets.

Papar railway bridge.

The town has seen considerable growth in recent years but still preserves some of its older buildings and features. Important architectural features which can be seen in the Papar town includes the District Office, Papar Public Library, Papar Public Park, New Papar Market, OKK Mahali Park (which constitutes a large part of the new town), Salleh Sulong Hall and a new bigger Papar Community Hall which also hosts a weekly wet market on its compounds, a sports complex with a field, a stand and a gymnasium, and the new train station, which doubles as a bus and mini-van station which serves the Kota Kinabalu-Papar-Beaufort route.

The well-known Shaw Brothers film company once operated Papar's sole cinema, called New Gaiety.[5] It closed in the 1990s; however, a nearby street is still named Jalan Cinema ("Cinema Road") after the now-defunct theatre.

Despite repair and refurbishment over the years, the Papar railway bridge looks much as it did in the Second World War. It featured in Allied plans to retake North Borneo from the Japanese. References to it and the Papar River can be found in reports on the Agas and Semut covert intelligence operations, and later in the Stallion and Oboe 6 attack plans.[6]


Papar is known as the West Coast Division education hub. Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (National Youth Skill Institute) or IKBN and Maktab Rendah Sains MARA (MARA Science College) or MRSM are the first IKBN and MRSM built in Sabah. Papar main secondary schools are SMK Majakir, SMK Benoni, SMK Takis, SMK Kinarut, SMK Bongawan I/II, SM St. Joseph, SMK St. Mary and Papar Middle School.

Papar has the most religious schools among districts; SMK(A) Tun Datu Mustapha, SMK(A) Limauan, new SMA Toh Puan Hajah Rahmah and SMA Islamiah Papar. Both SMK are under central government administrative while both SMA are under state government administrative. Papar education complex type area is situated at Kinarut which includes the IKBN, MRSM, SMK(A) Tun Datu Mustapha and SMA Toh Puan Hajah Rahmah. A number of primary schools can be found in the district.


Utan Paradise Jungle Camp.

Tourism is an important industry in Papar, arguably coming after the agriculture industry. Many resorts can be found along the coast. Some of the tourist attractions in the district are:

  • Beringgis Beach Resort
  • Dinawan Island
  • Kawang Forest Centre
  • KK Adventure Park
  • Mai Aman
  • Utan Paradise Jungle Camp


  1. ^ "Papar". Borneo Trade. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Sejarah" (in Malay). Papar District Council. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Total population by ethnic group, administrative district and state, Malaysia, 2010" (PDF). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Penduduk". Papar District Council. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "Shaw Cinemas, Borneo, Post War (1945-1970)". Shaw Theatres. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Journal of the Australian War Memorial". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 5°44′N 115°56′E / 5.733°N 115.933°E / 5.733; 115.933